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Formula 1

Vettel felt distracted after ‘years’ of considering retirement

by Scott Mitchell-Malm
6 min read

Sebastian Vettel has admitted that the thought of retiring from Formula 1 has been with him for so long that it has probably “distracted me at times”.

The four-time world champion will end his F1 career at the end of the 2022 season, having informed his Aston Martin team of the decision on Wednesday prior to the Hungarian Grand Prix.

Aston Martin wanted to re-sign Vettel but asked him to make his mind up prior to the summer break so it could have more time to find a replacement if needed.

Vettel realised that he wanted to spend more time with his family and pursue other interests after admitting the roots of this decision go back “years”.

It leaves Vettel with 10 races remaining in his F1 career and he believes he will have no problem motivating himself as he can now focus on driving without the decision weighing on his mind.

“I feel a little bit the opposite,” he said in a lengthy briefing talking through various aspects of his retirement decision with assembled media, including The Race.

“I feel this decision has been in my head for so long now and has taken so much energy to be honest – maybe even distracted me at times – that I’m quite relieved and looking forward to the next races.”

Vettel contemplated walking away from F1 in 2020 when he lost his Ferrari seat.

He opted to continue having been tempted by the Aston Martin project, owned by Lawrence Stroll and with long-term title-challenging ambitions.

Motor Racing Formula One World Championship Austrian Grand Prix Qualifying Day Spielberg, Austria

Vettel has revealed this two-year stint with the team has given him closure on questions he had when he lost his Ferrari drive and also brings an end to a process that began before the COVID-19 pandemic that started in 2020 as well.

“I was already having the first questions and thoughts, before 2020 or the pandemic,” said Vettel.

“But obviously they have grown a lot with the fact that I made a decision in 2020 to carry on rather than stopping – changing teams, finding a new challenge, new environment.

“The truth is, there were still a lot of questions that I had opened myself and wanted to answer.

“I feel I have a very clear picture today about them. Obviously I didn’t win races since then – but I don’t think I had to, or needed to.

“It was more between me and myself to sort these things out. I know what I can do, I know I can be amongst the best, I know what it takes to be amongst the best, so I’m not shy of that.

“So, I’m looking forward to the races I have left, to show that and do that the way I want to do those races, enjoy them together with the team.

“And then it’s time to move on.”

Motor Racing Formula One World Championship Hungarian Grand Prix Race Day Budapest, Hungary

Despite the upsides of the Aston Martin project, Vettel’s future has never looked completely certain and he could have walked away at the end of 2021.

This year he said his mind would be swayed by the team’s competitiveness, which has been lacking, and progress behind the scenes.

Vettel described it as “not a 100%-0% decision” but that by this summer he had realised the majority of the factors were pulling him away from F1.

One of those was his increasing environmental awareness and irreconcilable clashes working in F1 has with his wider concerns.

He said these are things “I cannot look away from” and that “once you see these things, once you are aware, I don’t think you can really unsee it”.

“It’s not a decision I took overnight,” said Vettel.

“The final decision was taken by telling the team that I’m going to stop and not going to continue, but there was a lot of thought leading into this.

“If you do this, I’m convinced you have to do it the right way.

“I don’t get much pleasure and motivation from being here just being part of it – the aim has always been to win, compete at the front.”

That makes it all the more relevant that Vettel has had statistically two of the worst years of his career with Aston Martin.

It suffered in 2021 from the floor changes that hit low-rake cars particularly hard, and this year neither the launch specification of the Aston Martin AMR22 or the upgraded versions introduced in Spain and Britain have been able to establish the team as a regular points threat.

Motor Racing Formula One World Championship French Grand Prix Race Day Paul Ricard, France

Vettel finished 12th in F1 last year, the second-worst championship result of his full-time career after finishing 13th with Ferrari in 2020, and he is only 14th in the 2022 standings.

“I have been very privileged to have had so many great cars and teams in the past, that I was able to achieve so many things,” said Vettel.

“In terms of greatness this team doesn’t fall short compared to any of the ones before, but obviously our package wasn’t as strong as we would’ve loved it to be. So we didn’t race for front positions.

“But in terms of effort, team spirit, quality, I think there are all the right ingredients and I do see the team will make progress the year that is to come, next year and the years after.”

One question Vettel cannot answer is what exactly he will do next. He intends to continue his environmental activism even though he admits losing the platform of being an active F1 driver was something else he considered when weighing up whether to retire.

Vettel decided that “at the foreground have always been my beliefs, not an agenda or campaign”, and that he can achieve what he wants to in that area without using F1 as a vehicle for it.

In terms of his motorsport future, Vettel has not ruled out racing elsewhere although he has no firm plans in place.

Motor Racing Formula One World Championship Hungarian Grand Prix Preparation Day Budapest, Hungary

While committing to a decision on his future has helped give Vettel clarity over whether he will be in F1 next year or not, which he said he needed as well as the team, he has also admitted that the wider uncertainty is both exciting and daunting.

“For every sportsman and woman, probably the biggest challenge is waiting for us once we decide to do other things,” said Vettel.

“That’s what I’m facing. In all honesty, I’m also scared of what’s coming because it might be a hole, and I don’t know how deep it is or if I’ll get out of it.

“But I think I have a lot of support, lots of people who have helped me along the way so far and will continue to help me and give me direction and guidance.

“Hopefully I’ll make the right decision also in the future to progress and become a better version of myself in 10 years’ time.”

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